Vidakovich column: Karina’s smile |

Vidakovich column: Karina’s smile

Mike Vidakovich

Her smile not only lights up a room, it can shine brightly over an entire playground of an elementary school. Her name is Karina, and she is a third grader at Glenwood Springs Elementary School.

As a substitute teacher, I was fortunate enough to spend the better part of a morning with her last week at the Glenwood Elementary School field day. I will be honest here, I usually try to avoid taking substitute jobs on field day because it more often than not involves being on my feet and out in the sun for long periods of time, both of which don’t sit well with trying to achieve an extended stay in my old age comfort zone. I’m glad, though, that I didn’t pass up the opportunity to be a part of this day and the memory of a little girl’s smile that will be with me forever.

Since birth, Karina has spent much of her time relegated to a wheelchair, but on this day, with the help of teaching assistants Katie, Lori and Margaret, she was able to participate — along with the rest of her class — in such events as tug of war, the sack race, bouncy ball relay, and various splashy, water related events.

The sun was out in full force early, but Karina’s wide-as-the-Mississippi grin cast every bit as much light on the children around her as old Mr. Sol was able to do. She was having the time of her young life and so were all of the rest of the kids who frolicked without care, knowing that summer vacation was just on the horizon. They ran, jumped and flicked water at one another with boundless energy and the joy that being new to the world can bring. Not one of them seemed to give a hoot who was coming in first place. They were having way too much fun.

Field Day in 2021 is in stark contrast to the late 1960s and early ‘70s when I wandered the halls of GSES. Coach Chavez was our PE teacher and he would award five ribbons in each event per grade level. The highly competitive day was set up in the fashion of a track meet, with the softball throw taking the place of the shot put and events such as the quarter mile run, long jump and 50-yard dash being the headliners.

My friends and I placed a premium on getting one or more of those coveted, multi-colored ribbons. There was nothing awarded for being a participant. To us, that would have just meant that you lost. I don’t believe any of my classmates would have wanted it any other way.

The emphasis in this day and age is placed more on trying many things while giving your best effort, cooperating with others and, most of all, having fun. For me, I’m constantly torn between the modern ways of youth sports, and my days of old, where the drive to win never took a back seat.

I’m always trying to adjust in looking at things more both ways now than I was ever able to do in the past, and that’s a good thing. It’s an ongoing process, but I believe daily progress is being made. I do realize that it is 2021 and not 1971, but I’m pretty fond of the latter date, and if given the choice, I would still prefer to go head to head in battle for those ribbons with all my grade school rivals. It’s just how we all were raised back then. It’s in our DNA.

But if Karina’s gigantic smile and the sheer joy exuded by those kids and their teachers during field day at GSES is any indication, maybe they made more of an impression on me that sunny spring morning than I care to admit. There could still be hope for me after all.

Glenwood Springs native Mike Vidakovich is a freelance sports writer and youth sports coach. His column appears on occasion in the Post Independent and at

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